Laura W. from Story City, Iowa asks:
When shooting with a digital sensor, do you use a light meter?
Yes, I do.
While many cinematographers are satisfied to set exposure through the monitor, I prefer the rock-solid reference point that my Spectra Professional, Minolta Auto-Meter III or Pentax Digital Spot guarantee. Once I’m able to calibrate my eye to how the monitor interprets my iris settings – and taking into consideration present viewing standards and what I intend to do to the image in post – I’ll use one of them to set the key. I’ll then set the fill by eye, same as I did on the negative.
It’s simple. The amount of light hitting a subject is what it is. At a given interval and ISO rating, a meter makes an exact measurement of that amount every single time. I occasionally amuse myself with a peek at the histogram or waveform but they often register fluctuations among different camera and monitor combinations, so I don’t give them too much weight. Monitor calibration also slips over time, so the meter is indispensable to identifying the shift.
I’ve always been a stickler about exposure; during the film era I worked from a single printer light established during testing. I also don’t ride the single-channel unit and change exposure within a continuous scene – unless I’m forced to. Instead – just like the old days – I light to a single stop and mechanically build exposure variances into the shot. The fact that monitors now show a live image of what’s hitting the sensor can easily fool you into complacency. For that reason alone I don’t find them a completely reliable tool for determining exposure.
Don’t forget to submit questions you might have regarding any aspect of cinematography and filmmaking! Use the comments section and I’ll reply as soon as I can.